Roughly seven out of every 10 minimum-wage workers in Maine are women, placing the state among those with the greatest gender inequality for low-wage workers, according to a recent study.

The study, by the Washington, D.C.-based National Women’s Law Center and based on 2014 U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics data, found that Maine is one of six states in which at least 70 percent of all minimum-wage workers are women. Louisiana had the largest share of female minimum-wage workers at roughly 80 percent.

The other states with the highest percentage of female minimum-wage workers were Arkansas and Pennsylvania, in which 75 percent are women, followed by New Hampshire and North Dakota, which tied Maine at about 70 percent.

Nationally, the average share of women among minimum-wage workers was about 65 percent, according to the study.

One reason a higher percentage of U.S. women earn the minimum wage is that more women work part time than men, said Sarah Ruef-Lindquist, CEO of the Falmouth-based Maine Women’s Fund, a nonprofit organization that helps women.

Often it is because they are juggling work and child care or looking after sick or elderly family members, she said. The fact that Maine has so many women earning minimum wage may be tied to the care-taking needs of its older-than-average population. Maine’s median age of 43.5 makes it the oldest state in the country.


Women in Maine also are far more likely to be single heads of household with children under 18, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. In 2013, there were about 33,570 single mothers with children living at home in Maine, compared with 13,700 single fathers. In addition, there were more than three times more widowed women in the state (55,650) than men (15,800).

Earning low wages, often without benefits, makes it difficult for women to save money for retirement, Ruef-Lindquist said.

“We’re creating this enormous generation of women in poverty in their retirement years,” she said.

The National Women’s Law Center study found a link between high percentages of female minimum-wage workers and lower minimum wages overall.

Five out of the six states with the highest share of female minimum-wage workers have a minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, the lowest allowed by federal law. Only Maine was slightly higher, at $7.50 an hour.

“I can’t begin to imagine trying to live on that,” Ruef-Lindquist said.


In 2013, the Maine Legislature passed a bill to raise the state’s minimum wage to $9 by 2016, but Gov. Paul LePage vetoed it.

But this month, a Maine legislative committee endorsed a proposal to raise the state’s minimum wage to $9.50 by 2018.

The Labor, Research, Commerce and Economic Development Committee voted 7-3 in favor of an amended version of Democratic Rep. Dillon Bates’ bill. It would raise the $7.50 minimum wage to $8 this October and then by 50 cents every year until 2018.

Three lawmakers supported a version put forward by Assistant Republican Senate Leader Andre Cushing that would similarly raise the wage by 50 cents a year, but stop at $9. His version also would change the work rules for minors to allow young people to work more hours and prohibit municipalities from enacting a local minimum wage increase.

Both measures now will head to the full House and Senate.

Other efforts are underway in Maine to raise minimum wages at the municipal level.


Portland is scheduled to vote in June on whether to raise the minimum wage from $7.50 an hour to $8.75 an hour as recommended by the City Council’s Finance Committee.

Under the committee recommendation, the city’s minimum wage would be set at $8.75 an hour as of Jan. 1, 2016. The rate would increase gradually every two years before being capped at $9.75 an hour in 2020.

This month, South Portland’s City Council discussed the possibility of raising the city’s minimum wage, agreeing that the current state minimum of $7.50 an hour is too low, but differing on the hourly rate councilors believe is needed.

Also this month, the Augusta City Council held an informational discussion on Ward 4 Councilor Anna Blodgett’s proposal to set a citywide minimum wage of $8.25 an hour. Small local businesses with four or fewer employees and businesses where employees receive tips, such as restaurants, would be exempted.

In Bangor, City Councilor Joe Baldacci submitted a proposal this year to raise the minimum wage to $8.25 an hour by Jan. 1. The plan calls for the minimum wage to reach $9.75 an hour by 2018. Bangor has not acted on Baldacci’s proposal.


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